WASHINGTON BUREAU — The long-term disability insurance (LTD) industry took a licking today during a Senate Finance Committee hearing.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said LTD insurers have doctors with conflicts of interest review claims.
“Many of these doctors are employed either by the insurance company or by companies that do a lot of business with the insurance company,” Baucus said. “These arrangements make it far too easy for the doctors to deny claims, terminate claims, or reject appeals.”
Ronald Leebove, a rehabilitation counselor who appeared for the American Board of Forensic Counselors, Springfield, Mo., said private group LTD policies fail to provide the protection insurers promise.
“There are many tricks and tactics used by the insurance companies to deny claims,” Leebove said.
Several witnesses talked about employers’ and insurers’ use of Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) provisions to give plan administrators’ discretion over LTD benefits decisions, and to ward off challenges of benefits determinations.
Mark DeBofsky, a partner at Daley, DeBofsky & Bryant, Chicago, a law firm, said the courts have gone against legislative intent and transformed ERISA into “a shield that protects insurance companies from having to face the consequences of unprincipled benefit denials and other breaches of fiduciary duty.”
In most cases involving LTD claim disputes, there is not even a trial, DeBofsky said.
“Instead,” DeBofsky said, “courts conduct reviews of claim records assembled and shaped by self-serving insurance companies without hearing any testimony whatsoever, under a procedure that gives more deference to the insurance company than a court would give a Social Security administrative law judge in its review of a Social Security disability benefit claim denial.”